When preparing a speech for an event such as a conference, ensure the content of your speech or address has potential to influence opinion. Once you are satisfied about this, don’t hesitate to prod the event organizers into promoting the speech. In fact, if you believe the content of your speaker’s address has substantial merit, you should pressure the organizers to maximize the publicity and social media coverage for the event and your speaker. If they can’t or won’t, you should step in helpfully and say you will save them the trouble and do it for them. In this way you can ensure your speaker and the themes developed can be used to maximize the benefits from a speaking opportunity.
A speech or presentation isn’t truly effective until you as speechwriter or your speaker have motivated the audience to act upon your words. This includes your live audience and those you are reaching externally. Therefore, you need to include a call to action (CTA) every time. Even a speech or presentation in honor of a person or in recognition of a milestone achievement or business/service anniversary needs to include a strong call to action, in which you make your goal clear, objective and actionable. It has to move the audience in some way, to influence them to review a previously held stance, change their perception of your organization, or motivate them to take action in favor of (or against) a given initiative. For instance, in 2021, the PRSA board wanted to make it easier for members who didn’t have their APR certificate to become an office-bearer. Some intense lobbying took place among members, and the motion was duly defeated.
Tailor your call to action to your audience
Speech and presentation expert Nancy Duarte says each target audience brings four distinct skills that help you focus your CTA – Doers, Suppliers, Influencers and Innovators:
People respond to different types of calls to action based on their temperaments, daily activities, goals, and more. So, it’s important to get to know who is in your audience before you decide how you’re going to deliver their post-talk “to-dos.” Once you do, you can ensure your call actually gets a response.
Reaching external audiences
Externally, you can target your key stakeholders with a summary of the main points of the speech (most recipients are too busy to wade through the whole speech). Publicize the speech through the media (you can issue a media release covering your main points), in your external publications, in your website, and in social media – your organization’s Facebook page and its Twitter account provide an ideal opportunity to plug the points you wish to make in the public arena. You should send a summary of the speech with a personal note where possible to very important stakeholders such as customers, shareholders and bankers to demonstrate their importance to you. In addition, you can write a core article along the theme of your speech and offer it to business and professional journals. Don’t forget: if yours is a public company and it is an important speech that could influence shareholder attitudes, you will need to table the speech with the stock exchange.
Many organizations tend to forget about the internal stakeholders. You should leverage the speech by publicizing the key points internally within your organization. This can be a valuable way of positioning you with your senior management, peers and directors as well as other employees. You can send an email to all employees drawing their attention to the speech and to a summary or report placed on the organizational intranet or website. And of course, you can use social media to promote the speech, internally and externally. By acting on these promotional opportunities you can maximize the benefits from a speaking opportunity.
How to evaluate speaking opportunities professionally
For a strategically based speaking program, you would evaluate a range of considerations for each speaking opportunity, as shown in the table below. Obviously some of the factors are more important than others. It is up to you to decide which ones are the most important to you in each situation. The act of considering the variables in the table will enable you to better determine whether a speaking opportunity is worthwhile.
Since speaking activities are relatively subjective, you are likely to be challenged at some stage as to why you have included or excluded particular speaking opportunities. Or perhaps someone will ask you what your speaking program has achieved. By documenting your criteria as in the table, you can easily justify your decisions. In fact, you will look very professional!
You need to consider each speaking opportunity on its merits to determine whether it is a more effective alternative than other forms of communication and relationship building. Only when the opportunity is a better alternative should you accept it. An exception may be if a low-key occasion provides good practice for a less experienced executive to hone their public speaking skills.
A note of caution: ideally every speech opportunity is treated on its merits, but in real life you are likely to encounter exceptions. You may find your chairman, a Director or a senior executive wants you or the chief to speak at a function or conference as a favor to someone else. In these sorts of cases you probably have to smile graciously and do the work. But make a note of these cases and document from the table the extent to which they diverge from strategic relevance. When the time is right, you can point out to the right people these examples and their nuisance value.
Allow for preparation time
Speeches are time-intensive and stressful. They take up the valuable time of the CEO or relevant senior executives. You should take into account the amount of speaker time needed to research or guide research, to cooperate and develop the theme and objectives of the speech, to agree on the content and review it, rehearse the speech plus their return travel to the venue and the time spent in attending the event and delivering the speech. You also need to think about which executives, apart from the CEO, should represent your organization in public forums, and whether they need presentation skills training.
Be proactive to maximize the benefits from a speaking opportunity
It is fine to rigorously review all speech invitations against the evaluation criteria, but that is only one side of the coin, the reactive side. The other side of the coin is to be proactive about speaking opportunities. Human beings are social by nature. They like to belong to groups. And business people like belonging to business groups. As a strategically adept person, you would actively review the many available forums by checking the conference calendar of your peak industry body, and of business associations at local, national and international level. There are general opportunities to speak at events arranged by business associations such as company directors’ associations, institutes of management, shareholder and investor associations, and the like.
Professional associations usually offer good opportunities to speak and enable you to position your organization and management as a thought leader. There are as many such bodies as there are occupations: marketing, HR, engineering, finance and accounting, administration, information technology, telecommunications, risk management, insurance, banking, superannuation, advertising, management, universities, transport, to name a few, and many subsets of those general fields.
The first step in a proactive speaker program is to decide how many speaking commitments would be reasonable to ask your CEO and other senior executives to commit to (with their agreement, of course!). Then review the conferences, conventions and trade shows to be held by relevant bodies in the coming year, plus business breakfasts, lunches and other events hosted by newspapers and business publications. If necessary, you can contact them directly to ask for their forward program of activity. You can identify the ones that are likely to provide opportunities to address some of your target stakeholders. Even if the type of audience is of marginal value, you can still arrange external publicity yourself aimed at wider audiences so you can maximize the benefits from a speaking opportunity.
Usually event organizers will post a preliminary summary of the theme and program on their website. Quite often they will call for papers, and so you can check this information and decide whether there is fertile potential for you to offer a speech compatible with the broad theme of the event. You should write a thought-provoking working title (keep it short and sharp, not academic!), and provide a short abstract of the planned speech as well the nomination of a suitable speaker from your organization, usually the CEO.
Then contact the organizers to make the pitch. Often as not, especially if you have a respected speaker, the organizers will be pleased to receive the approach and will accept your offer. That’s when the rest of the preparation starts.
You can read about achieving more benefits from a speaking opportunity in my article, “Speeches need to be promoted.”